“French ignorance of the African past will amaze our descendants,” exclaimed the academic Louis Bertrand, during a conference held before 2,000 people in Algiers in 1922.
Let us not forget that North Africa was one of the most prosperous provinces of the Roman Empire, and it was on the remains of its paganism that the triumphant Christianity of Tertullian, St. Cyprian, and especially St. Augustine, made the Church in Africa one of the liveliest and most radiant of the 5th century as “the mother, the educator, and the light of our Western Churches.”
But for that, what efforts, what sacrifices, what martyrs! Louis Bertrand, in a book of considerable success, Sanguis martyrum. Les premiers martyrs chrétiens d’Afrique du nord (Sanguis martyrum. The first Christian martyrs of North Africa), made it the subject of this flamboyant historical novel in 1918.
“So what is Sanguis martyrum? It is the implementation of the famous apothegm of Tertullian: sanguis martyrum, semen christianorum (the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians).
“In a plot, which is not the weakest part nor the least moving, the author shows how the death of a martyr – St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage - sows a seed of grace which sinks into the earth.”
“Underground, even, in the mines where Christian slaves suffer death and passion - to reappear in a collective martyrdom, which is a harvest of radiant souls for paradise: paradise in the light of the sword, the sword of the executioners,” as Fr. Jean Bayot so eloquently summarized it during the colloquium on Louis Bertrand (published by Via Romana in 2015).
“It is perhaps not useless,” specifies Louis Bertrand in his prologue, “to know what kind of heroes the saints and the martyrs were, and, in our asking what they died for, to identify, with the mystical sense, the human significance of their sacrifice.”
To write this novel with historically accurate and reconstructed facts, no one was better suited than Louis Bertrand, an unfailing disciple of Flaubert with his powerful lyricism and his vigorous talent.
This native of Lorraine discovered and was dazzled by the Roman and Christian past of North Africa, of which he became the incomparable historian.